Life in boarding school was deplorable
As a child, I loved exploring
This is the ninth in a series of articles on the life story of Lidia Qattan, a writer, columnist and an artist.
was also gone.
When the police came to investigate, no trace was found of the animals, but soon after when father discovered that the barrel of petrol he kept filled to run the machinery, was empty, he suspected the herdsman, because only himself and no one else except the herdsman knew where the barrel was kept.
In the aftermath of the great war petrol was a precious commodity heavily rationed.
After this incident, even though father could not trust the man, he could not dismiss him, because he had been living in the farm with his family long before father bought it. Hence as soon as he had a good offer, he sold the farm and bought another across the river Po in the province of Ferrara, by then we children were sent to a boarding school to continue our education.
Indeed, since our arrival to Borbiago I was missing school, the only one in the village was run by nuns of the local Parish in which I soon discovered no one was teaching; we children were simply left to play and that quickly bored me, so I stopped attending.
Luigi on the other hand was having a great time working with machinery under the supervision of Angelo, the full time mechanic father hired to service the machines in the farm.
Angelo was a quiet, lovable man Luigi became very fond of because he was allowing to work with him.
From early childhood Luigi was passionate about machines, working with Angelo kept him busy for hours, but in the aftermath of the war father wanted Luigi to continue his education, so he enrolled him in a technical college where he learned to make spare parts for agricultural machinery.
But Luigi was missing working with Angelo, so he dropped out of college to be with him.
In the aftermath of the World War II the education system in the country was in chaos, the only alternative father thought of sending us to a boarding school. For me and Maria he chose Santa Maria del Carmine in Venice, for Luigi he chose a boarding school in Mestre, a town not far from Borbiago.
From the moment I stepped inside the boarding school I wanted to get out. Accustomed to the great outdoors all my life, I was feeling suffocating, I felt trapped like a little mouse in a tight place.
Making things worse the food which was deplorable, I often found dead little worms in the pasta. This disgusted me and though I was famished at meal time I lost my appetite.
The only thing I could trust was bread, but it was too little to satisfy my hunger.
Constant hunger made me edgy. There was a central courtyard in the school where we girls were playing the same monotonous games day-in day-out, this bored me to death .
Famished and miserable all the time I became rebellious.
Two months later when father and mother came to see us, I was so skinny that my father got worried. When he asked me about the food, I told him frankly what I thought of it unmindful of the nuns in the room watching us.
Before leaving, father had a talk with Mother Superior; on the next day he sent sacks of flour to increase the portion of bread for me and Maria. Incidentally after that day my grade in behavior was kept low, hence I was not allowed to see my parents whenever they came.
Only Maria could see them because she was quiet and well behaved, she had none of my restless spirit, hence she settled down almost immediately and apparently she was happy.
Because of her calm, amiable nature Maria was loved by the nuns, hence they often took her out to see the city. They also gave her pocket money, which father left for us to buy what we needed: I never received a penny of that money.
To see or not to see my parents when they came to the school didn’t matter to me, as long as I was allowed to have some of the cake they brought us.
Sometime I felt I didn’t love them; I became conscious of this feeling when a couple of Venetian nobles came to our school to adopt one of the girls, Mariuccia, whose mother was never heard of after she left her.
The woman was from Fiume, an Italian city in the region of Venezia Giulia, which after the World War II became part Yugoslavia.
After two years waiting, failing to trace the mother the nuns gave up hope she would ever return.
The child was constantly crying and asking for her mother, so, the nuns thought to give her a new home, a new mom and dad who would give her love and a future.
The couple had no children, when they saw the girl they wanted her, but Mariuccia only wanted her mother.
I was eight years old at that time easily attracted by appearance, hence I could not understand why that girl was refusing to live with that nice couple.
If the same offer was given to me, I would not had hesitated a second, all I wanted was to leave that horrible place and live with someone who loved me.
Children become attached to those who make them feel loved and cherished. In my childhood I didn’t feel that from my parents, though, when I grew up I knew they must have loved me.
All the years I spent in Venice I hardly had the chance of seeing the city. On rare occasions I went out, was on the day I was taken with the other girls to see a movie. It was the first one I ever saw in my life, hence I was impressed with the novelty. The film was called “The Great Adventure,” it was an ordinary cowboy story, but to me it was a thrilling experience.
The other time I was taken with other girls on a field trip was to the island of Mamalocco, one of the many little islands near Venice, which during the World War II was a German military stronghold.
The bunkers built at strategic points on the island were still as the German left them at the time I went there.
I loved the exploring, but my fun was spoiled by hunger. Though the other girls were having food, I never knew why I alone was given nothing to eat, to even given some money to buy food from the local canteen.
To be continued